Wednesday 17 November 2010

Library Loot

Because I've just put a huge preserving pan of apple chutney on to cook, which will take ages therefore giving me some free time today, I thought I'd do a library post. Haven't done one in an age and having chatted to Marg on Twitter, the other night, about the weekly Library Loot event, I thought I would add my post to that.

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

So anyway, here's a photo of my current library pile:

The top five books are ones that have been on my library pile for a few weeks. From the top then:

Soup: Hot and Cold Recipes for all Seasons - Pippa Cuthbert. I adore soup and this one has a few recipes, such as split pea and ham, that I want to try.

Red Bones - Ann Cleves. Book three of her Jimmy Perez/Shetland Isles series that I like so much.

A Darker God - Barbara Cleverly. This was a random grab and now that I've checked it turns out it's 'book 3' in her Leaticia Talbot series, set in the late 1920s. I'll have to decide whether to read it out of turn or try to get hold of the first book.

The Comfort of Saturdays - Alexander McCall Smith. Book 5 in the Isabel Dalhousie series. I'm sure this will be as lovely as all the rest.

Adventures of a Gentleman's Gentleman - Guy Hunting. The author was apparently butler to Noel Coward and the Queen back in the day. This was also a random library grab.

The last four books are my actual library loot for this week:

Dead of Winter - Chris Priestley. He wrote the 'Tales of Terror' ghost series of course, and I think this his latest full length ghost novel.

Days From a Different World - John Simpson. Simpson is a news correspondant for the BBC - a well respected journalist I believe, currently in Burma. I have his A Mad World, My Masters on my tbr mountain but was tempted by this account of his childhood when I saw it. I always assume jounralists will be good and interesting writers.

Hugh Fearlessly Eats it All - Hugh Fearnley-Whitingstall. I love his cookery programmes from his cottage in Dorset but this is one of his early books (possibly based on a TV series) which I spotted and thought I'd try.

The Virago Book of Food: The Joy of Eating edited by Jill Foulston. Women through the ages writing about food. How perfect could a book get?

I'm currently reading Sourcery by Terry Pratchett for Marg's Pratchett challenge but I'm hoping to finish that later today and will then move on to one of these. Probably the John Simpson as the minute I got home I found someone else had reserved it from the library so I won't be able to renew.

Monday 15 November 2010

The Meaning of Night

Author, Michael Cox, died last year at the age of 61. I knew him from my copies of Victorian Ghost Stories and The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories both of which he edited with R.A. Gilbert and are two of the best ghost story anthologies available in my opinion. Until he died I had no idea that he'd written a full length novel. Apparently it took him 30 years to write - which doesn't really surprise me - and was eventually published in 2006. My good friend Deslily read it for her R.I.P. V challenge and enjoyed it so much that I was spurred on to nab it from the library and give it a go.

The first sentence of this book informs you that the narrator, Edward Glyver, is a murderer. And the whole point of this story is to explain why. Edward has been brought up in Dorset, in the mid 1800s, by two people he believes to be his parents. His father is a wastrel, his mother writes romantic fiction to keep the family fed. She is overworked and mentally exhausted. Occasionally the family is visited by a woman Edward knows as Miss Lamb and all he knows about her is that she is his mother's best friend. Eventually he is sent to Eton to complete his education and here he meets one, Phoebus Daunt, who will have an unimaginable impact on his life.

Phoebus lives at Evenwood, a large stately home, where his mother, a cousin to the owner, Lord Tansor, has been busy ingratiating herself with him with a view to persuading him to make Phoebus his heir. When Phoebus conspires to get Edward expelled from Eton, it sets Edward on a lifelong course of revenge... and discovery. What is his own connection to Lord Tansor's dead first wife? Why does Evenwood seem familiar? And who actually was the woman who visited him as a child? Edward tells Phoebus as he leaves Eton that 'Revenge has a long memory' but does not envisage exactly how long and what he will have to go through to exact his revenge.

Wow. Just 'wow'. How can you sympathize with a murderer? Because a murderer is just what Edward Glyver is. He tells you what he did to an innocent man within the first few pages and you're horrified, but something tells you he has his reasons. And while you remain horrified, as you read on you can see the logic and can understand his motives. He is not the nicest of people himself. He's a manipulator, a bit of a womaniser, and indulges freely in the seedy underbelly of Victorian London. But still you realise that he has been unfairly treated by persons known and unknown and can't help but have some sympathy for his predicament. That's the work of a very good author, imo, when you can be made to feel sorry for a narrator who is not himself that pleasant a person.

I can well understand how this book took thirty years to write. It's a work of such cleverness and long research, and clearly a labour of love. The plot is intricate and twisted and the story so beautifully written; never a word out of place, it feels as though it's been written by someone of the Victorian age, when of course, it hasn't. Michael Cox was of my own generation! This is how to write a Victorian novel... I feel like flinging it at a few authors I could name who've made such a travesty of their attempts, but I won't go there. If you like a Victorian novel with a gothicky feel to it, secrets, a mystery that needs to be solved and excellent historical detail then look no further. And there is a sequel. The Glass of Time, published in 2008, before the author's death, picks up the story 20 years later. I can't wait to read it.

Thursday 4 November 2010

Throne of Jade and R.I.P. wrap-up

It's high time I wrote something here but it's been a hectic couple of weeks with grandchildren visiting and various bugs afflicting us all, so something had to go and reading and bookblogging was it. I'm hoping now for a nice quiet November, at the end of which we're away for several days holiday in South Wales again. Can't wait.

Anyway, because it's been so busy I've not read much and it took me two weeks to read Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik when it should have taken three or four days. No matter, if I prod myself often enough I might even come to realise that this reading thing I love so much is not a race.

Throne of Jade is book two in Naomi Novik's Temeraire fantasy series. In book one we saw how William Laurence, a captain in the navy at the time of the Napoleonic wars, became the companion of a Celestial dragon, Temeraire. By the end of that book the two are a fighting unit and this is the situation at the beginning of book two. But all is not well. Temeraire was seized as an egg from the French, the Chinese having given the egg to Emperor Napoleon. The Chinese want their dragon back and have sent a delegation. Against his better judgement Laurence and Temeraire embark on the sea voyage back to China to sort out the mess and try to ensure that the two can stay together. The voyage is hardly uneventful though and Laurence has his work cut out, not only communicating with the Chinese but in deciding which of them he can trust. And this is without the age-old friction between the dragon corps and the navy. And hanging over all is the reality that once dragon and companion get to China they could be separated forever.

This is such a good series. You might be forgiven for thinking that dragons and the Napoleonic war are scarcely a good mix but you would be mistaken. It works wonderfully - a sort of mix between Anne McCaffrey's wonderful Pern books and Hornblower. I like Laurence as a character but for me the star of the show is definitely the dragon himself, Temeraire. I love his mix of child-like wonderment at the world and high intelligence and the author seems to be working on creating a well rounded and attractive personality in him. But really it's the togetherness of dragon and companion that is the crux of these books, their utter faithfulness to each other; I really like that I have to admit.

The other thing I like is the armchair travel aspect. I thoroughly enjoyed the sea voyage part as I like books about sea voyages. The Chinese part was excellent too and felt realistic to me, but then I'm no expert. The travelling continues I believe as I know book 4, Empire of Ivory, is set in Africa.

Hopefully this is to be a long running series. According to the FantasticFiction page for Naomi Novik there should be six books out by now but I'm not sure this is the case. But anyway, I have the first four which is enough to keep me going for a little while. This is a good series if you love dragons or something a little different in your fantasy reading.


The last two months have flown by and with it Carl's
R.I.P. V challenge.

I was doing:

Read four books, any length, that you feel fits my very broad definition of scary. It could be Stephen King or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Fleming or Edgar Allan Poe…or anyone in between.

I read four books... was hoping to read more but it didn't happen and I have actually completed the challenge which, for me, this year, is a plus as my reading has been slower than normal. The books I read were:

Footsteps in the Dark by Georgette Heyer
Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth by Chris Priestley
Blood Sinister by Celia Rees
The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff

I enjoyed them all. Couldn't pick a favourite really but if one was slightly (ever so) less enjoyable it would be Blood Sinister. If I have any regrets it's that I didn't manage to read anything really meaty for the challenge... the likes of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova or The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. Oh well, there's always next year and I do have a likely candidate on my current library pile - The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox. Too late for the challenge but no matter.

Anyway, thanks as always to Carl for hosting the R.I.P. challenge again this year.